Clive Thompson at collision detection: Can you think better when you're typing?
In today's [19 Jan 2005] New York Times, there's an Education article talking about the demise of proper cursive handwriting among high-schoolers. Computers have drastically reduced the amount a student writes by hand, so much that the skill, "like an unused muscle", is pretty much dead by your senior year. But there's an interesting question buried in this piece: What is the cognitive effect of handwriting versus typing?
[found via EducationNiche, and here is a full text version of the NYT article]
The NYT article is mostly about the changing way students take notes and the potential problems people will have if they cannot write effortlessly. Clive takes this a slightly different direction.
Clive's article is thoughtful and there are many counter-point comments following, but the gist is very similar to my thoughts yesterday about personality styles: people think differently while typing or writing longhand. I suspect we also work differently when drawing, something I miss in the computer age. For people who can type quickly, presumably they can record a lecture or phone call verbatim, so they needn't spend time thinking about what they are typing. The same goes for fast writers.
I constantly think while I am recording notes, either via keyboard or the pen. If I have the opportunity I will scribble and write as we talk. Typing while listening forces me to be somewhat linear and careful in how I record notes, so that they make sense when I come back to them. As I hear you talk, I get ideas and jot those into the notes. I make notes for myself to check into things. Writing, on the other hand, allows me to make more jumps and smash thoughts together even when they are not discussed in the same sentence. You might talk about X-Y-Z-A-B-C-Y, and I can lump the Y's together by simply smashing some text into the margin. Or I can draw lines and arrows and conceptually group things with circles and squares. I can also doodle. I can't draw at the computer without finding a different application that breaks my chain of thought. Even if it were embedded into my recording tool, I'd have to move from primarily keyboard to primarily mouse, and I am SLOW mouse-drawer. (I don't have a tablet computer, yet.) I can also use my own notation style on paper to highlight action items and other important pieces of information, whereas on the computer I have bold, italic and a few other tools at my ready disposal.
I know that I operate differently on paper than on the screen. My preferred mode is to hand-write notes and transfer what I want to archive to the computer. The beauty of this is that I am forced to review both my notes and my memory of the discussion to create a more succinct summary for myself.